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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
... I hope there were no schoolchildren in the theatre when this little
short ran back in 1945. The thing is, the voice over, everything about
this short, might lead somebody to believe that this is how history
The short talks about real things - the wholesale slaughter of the buffalo, the Indian attacks on the settlers to try and save their food supply, the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, and the wild west days of some of the cow towns in Kansas.
Into these real events some completely ridiculous and fictional events are inserted. First there are the fictional villains of the piece - "The Stacy Gang" - who apparently are almost single handedly responsible for the slaughter of the buffalo and imprisoned for it. In fact, nobody went to jail for killing buffalo. For a long time, the country's highest generals, politicians, even then President Ulysses S. Grant saw the destruction of buffalo as solution to the country's "Indian Problem." Then there is the joining of the pieces of the Transcontinental railroad that in this piece occurs in Kansas not Utah. Then there is a town growing up around the place where the sections were joined called - Civilization, Kansas??? There is no such place, and why would a town grow up around where a spike was driven and for no other reason? But then those Stacys are loose again, killing the sheriffs of Civilization, and the grown daughter of one, Dorothy Malone as Martha Mercer, decides she will be the law and avenge dad's murder. Hold it? She just thinks she can inherit the office? Actually, this is one piece of logic brought up by Marshal Jim Blake (Robert Shayne). Well Martha winds up being more a hindrance than a help as self appointed sheriff when she accompanies a gold shipment on a train robbed by the Stacys, gets cornered in a shoot out, and when Blake and his men try to stop the robbery she warns them too late AND gets taken hostage by the Stacys just long enough so they can get away.
Blake puts her in the Civilization jail, but leaves her with her gun and bullets, and heads off to confront the Stacys. This might account for her running around loose a short time later. All of this leads to a face-off between Blake and Stacy in a wild west saloon that turns into a free for all bar fight that actually looks like it was taken from the WB western "Dodge City".
The whole thing is great fun, just don't believe a word of it as fact. And as for Dorothy Malone, she has only been in film for two years, has dark hair at this point, and I wouldn't even have recognized her if it hadn't been for the credits. She hasn't developed her "look" yet.
The saloon brawl and the runaway horse team scenes are from Dodge City (1939) with Errol Flynn and Victor Jory. Both Jory and Guinn Big Boy Williams can be seen if you look quickly enough. What a waste of film. On the up side it did provide some pay checks for a few out of work actors and other studio employees. As usual, after the big deal fist fight between our hero sheriff and the villain the villain's face is bloody and our hero's face doesn't have a mark. But in as much as the short was made to entertain little kids and to sell popcorn it served it's purpose. It's not like they were out to make Gone With the Wind or Ben Hur. It would be interesting to hear what the producer and director had to say about why they made it and how they got permission to use film from other movies.
Which is what Errol Flynn usually spent 10 minutes doing in each of his westerns explaning how he acquired his accent while "punching caws down on the Rye-Ohh-Gran-dee", including 1939's "Dodge City" which is where most of the footage (of any value or had more than two people in the scene) of this 1945 short came from. Of course, it's disjointed and choppy; one can't stuff 90 minutes of film into a 20 minute bag without the use of a narrator. For those who have lots of time to waste, then watch "Frontier Days" and "Dodge City" and match up costumes and scenes. Hey, no big deal, just one of those things Warners used to peddle to the exhibitors for filler. The only complaint here is that they didn't just use the whole 20 minutes with the camera on Dorothy Malone showing just how a two-sizes too-small western shirt should be worn.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As this farce began with the sonorous tones telling us how "the red
man" considered the buffalo a gift from The Great Spirit I though for a
moment that it was small documentary, but NO! Instead we are shown "The
Tracey Gang" blazing away with their Winchesters at the buffalo herd
which seems to spook and run away (so much for their marksmanship!).
Caught red handed with the hides by White Hat Wearing Hero their leader
can only intone "Guess you got us bang to rights, this time" and seem
sure to spend a long time in the Big House. Several years later White
Hat Hero is coerced into becoming marshal of Civilisation, Kansas
(shown in stock shots from "Dodge City" to be wild and lawless). The
Stacey gang have somehow (???) been released from jail and are
basically running the town, and then board a train carrying a gold
shipment guarded only by the lovely Dorothy Malone, who fills a skin
tight shirt very nicely, thank you.. White Hat Hero and his two "chums"
are on the train, have seen the shadow of a man on top of the carriage
plus the gang walking through to the baggage car but must be half
asleep as until the gang start shooting in the baggage car they take no
action. Finally, good confronts bad in the confines of the baggage car
and all six are blazing away with Colt 45's. The Stacey gang's aim
hasn't improved over the years and only the scenery get's holes in it,
they escape by holding the hapless Malone as a shield.
There is more, but I don't have the heart to burden you with it, suffice to say it's a BAD film, cheaply made and poorly acted, bulked out with "Dodge City" footage requiring White Hat Hero to change his clothes to match the Flynn footage.
If a young Dorothy Malone in her prime is your bag, then watch it with the sound off, otherwise go watch paint dry.
Frontier Days was never considered for any Oscars I'm sure because it
has no originality in anyway. It's just a cut and paste story with a
lot of footage from Dodge City used and Truman Bradley to narrate the
With Robert Shayne and Dorothy Malone deliberately wearing costumes that look like Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHavilland, I'm sure this was just another way for Jack Warner to keep a couple of his young contract players working. It would take eleven more years for Dorothy Malone to win her Oscar and shorter than that for Bob Shayne to gain television immortality as Inspector Henderson on Superman.
Why Errol and Olivia didn't get any billing is a question. The thing is shoddily put together that you can plainly recognize them. Olivia in fact is shown driving the wagon from the scene wear Bobs Watson is dragged to his death. They should have given young Mr. Watson a credit as well.
The plot such as it is has Shayne as a former Indian agent taking on the job as marshal to tame Civilization, Kansas where Dorothy has already taken the job as sheriff in place of dad who's been killed by the same gang Shayne once had arrested when he was an Indian Commissioner.
Jack Warner just didn't have the knack for this. Now Herbert J. Yates at Republic, there was a man who could reuse stock footage over and over and get the most out of it.
Jack you were out of your league.
This western short starts promisingly, with a rather generous (for the time) view of the Indians. However, once Malone shows up as a pistol-packing daughter of a murdered sheriff looking for payback, it goes downhill. This is because she's portrayed as a complete ninny who is incredibly inept, and the Jim Blake character treats her in the most patronizing and sexist fashion (often for "humorous" effect). Also, the film feels like a Reader's Digest version of a longer film, since every scene is linked to the next by lengthy voiceovers, interrupting any momentum it might try to generate from its standard action setpieces (train heist, saloon brawl, etc.). What a waste of Malone!
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